The following report giving details of the building of the hall appeared in the local newspaper on Friday 10 December 1897.
"If ever there has been an example of the truth of the assertion that 'Where there’s a will there’s a way' it has been forthcoming in connection with the provision of a memorial to befittingly celebrate the long reign of Her Majesty at Ash.
All sorts of difficulties have had to be surmounted, but at last the suggestion of Mr. J. Payne that the memorial should take the place of a Jubilee Victoria Hall has become an accomplished fact, indeed so much so, that the foundation of the building, that will be undoubtedly blessed by much usefulness, was actually laid by Mr. H.M. Chester. L.L.D., of Poyle Park, on Wednesday afternoon, upon a site which had been given by himself.
Readers of this journal will remember that various schemes were submitted, but all are pretty well agreed now that the hall is the best of the lot. Much hard work has had to be got over, as already stated, and much credit is due to the trustees and to the committee for the laudable manner in which they have worked. It may be stated here that the trustees are H.M. Chester Esq., Messrs F.G. Britten, W.A. Frewin, T. Osgood, W. Brinkworth, H. Murrell, and J. Payne, whilst the committee is composed of Messrs S. Rattray (Chairman) J. Payne (Hon. Sec.) W.A. Frewin (Hon. Treas.) F.W. Banfield, F. Hawkins, H. Murrell, J. Hawes, F. Morling, T. Osgood and E. Taylor.
The total sum that is required to complete the hall, which is now being rapidly proceeded with, will be about £530, which will cover building, furnishing etc. Of this the promoters are assured of £400 (£300 on loan), and an appeal is now most earnestly made for subscriptions to make up the balance, and achieve the hall the success that it deserves, and for which it is claimed that it cannot fail to prove."
A portion of the original timber clock face shown in this picture of the Victoria Hall is on display in Ash Museum, along with an old gas lamp from the hall and a copy of the words and music of the “Song of the Hall”.
Over the years the parishioners have organised a variety of different activities at the Victoria Hall to amuse themselves. There have been regular happenings, such as cinema evenings, dances, plays and possibly wrestling. (We have found seating plans for wrestling, but can anyone confirm if actually happened?) Mr and Mrs Manning tell us of coming to the “Flicks” at the hall. They remember the serial “The Clutching Hand”, very scary, and you had to come the next week to find out what happened.
The Playmakers, amongst others, regularly put on plays from the 1960s until the 1980s, with productions such as Witch Wartnose and Boring Basil and the Terrible Dragon. During the War Mrs Parsons came to productions of Shakespeare produced by David Hitchin, which she recalls were excellently performed.
During and after World War Two the strongest entertainment activity seems to have been the dancing clubs and regular Friday and Saturday night “Hops”. These occasions were a good time for boy to meet girl, as did Mr and Mrs Glover in 1946. With the Canadians based nearby during the War, many a girl was smitten by a Canadian soldier, some of whom stayed, and they still meet on a regular basis in The British Legion Hall at Normandy. Others took our girls home with them. It was whilst the dance band was all the go that many a local group passed through the hall, some of them eventually reaching national status, such as George Martin and Bob Potter.
Bob Potter, now in his 70s, played drums in his own band and arranged gigs for other bands. He did several spots on radio. Eventually he finished up working mainly as a manager and was able to finance his own country club, Lakeside at Frimley Green.
George Martin died aged 70 in 1991 after a long and varied career in show business. Mr Glover remembers him cutting his teeth in the hall along with his brother Bill and brother-in-law Bob McGowan, when they worked together as The Martin Brothers. They performed as a vocal, instrumental and comedy trio, with George playing accordion/piano, Bob playing bass and Bill guitar/piano.
George eventually went solo. He started performing as a comic at the Windmill in London's Soho, where he did 2,280 stand up routines making up funny stories from the day’s paper. He had his own TV show, wrote material for other comics and was King Water Rat in 1971. He was scriptwriter for The David Nixon Magic Shows on TV, which of course really had Basil Brush as its star.
Who doesn’t check their watch as they pass the old village hall? But do they realise how it came to be there?
Well, three years after the hall was built, to be precise on 25 July 1900, a turret made of old English oak, with a weather vane and a three-faced clock, with tubular bells for striking the hours and chiming the quarters was presented by Dr Chester to Victoria Hall in memory of his mother, Charlotte Ellen Chester, who died on the 23 October 1898.
The Hall was packed on the night of the presentation and entertainment was arranged for the occasion with about 300 people attending and even standing room was unavailable. The following is a summary from a local press notice:
"The donor of the clock arrived just before eight, and was received with hearty cheers.
A few minutes later the programme opened with a pianoforte duet, by Mrs O Inlane and Miss ME Wallis.
Mrs Ormerod sang Mr Payne's song The Ash Victoria Hall, set to music by WH Bates, which took the place by storm. Mr WS Stevens gave They all love Jack. Miss Howard acquitted herself well in the flute solo with pianoforte accompaniment, La Fille de Madame Angot. Mr HT Harris well pleased his hearers with a brace of humorous songs. Mr J Payne was again to the fore, his spirited poem Tommy Atkins called to duty being recited with marked effect by the Hon Mrs Gifford.
At ten minutes to nine a short speech was given by Dr Chester, before he finally handed over the clock in motion. While the clock was striking nine, Mrs Omerod sang The Song of the Clock words by J Payne, music by Madame Gwatkin. This concluded with We thank you for your gift this day, followed by the chorus which ended with Hip, Hip, Hurray! Hurray!
Dr Chester then addressed the assembly relating to the use-fulness of a clock, and the value of time."
The applause and enthusiasm that night showed that the inhabitants highly appreciated Dr Chester's kindness and his continuous generosity.
Some time afterwards Dr Chester found the striking power of the clock did not comply with the terms promised, viz. to be heard a mile away. To avoid litigation, the supplier agreed to take it back under mutual concessions. Mr Payne, on behalf of Dr Chester, interviewed a London turret clock firm called “Benetfinks”. They agreed to comply with the Squire's wishes, providing a deeper well was dug for the weights to descend into. (This meant that the well finished up being about 50ft deep.)
Dr Chester agreed to do this, but in excavating to reach the required depth a thin quicksand substrata was met, causing some months of special work. The local contractor George Kemp had difficulty coping with this, as continuous pumping was needed to keep the water in subjection. Being a cost plus job Dr Chester’s pocket was badly hit, and his patience tried over the amount of time it took. A letter sent from George Kemp to Dr Chester shows that he only reluctantly took the work on and that he had to subcontract work to a well sinker. Things between client and contractor were no doubt difficult, in fact Kemp at a midway point in the work, asks to be paid up to date and “do you wish for me to carry on or not?”
There are three cables with 39 weights operating the mechanism, which in total weigh 113 stone. In 1937 the weights became detached and fell into the water, and although the clock kept time it did not chime again until 1965 when an underwater diving club rescued the weights from the bottom of the well.
Like us the ravages of time have their way and in 1990 over £16,000 pounds was spent on renovating the oak casing for the clock. As early as 1910 hall records show that replacements were needed, when 4 new hammer springs at a price of 1/6d each were ordered from a Coventry firm named Harrington, Latham & Co.
The clock is now in the care of Ash Parish Council who intend to fit an electric winding system. It is to be hoped that the old weighted winding mechanism will be kept in place so that the history associated with the old Village Clock is not lost.
By Brian Perry